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Winter

I'm not really into Lent.

Winter is a hard time of year for me as it is and I don't need penance, fasting, and deprivation on top of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

In this post, I explained that I am part of an evangelical gathering of believers who worship in a very modern, culturally-relevant way, but that as an individual I rely on more contemplative and traditional practices from varying faith traditions to connect with God.

Observing Lent falls into the personal practice category. Although a world-wide body of believers is in that space right now, the community of believers I belong to (not in "membership", but in relationship) is not. Therefore, it's easy for me to heartily embrace Advent but duck out of Lent, according to my own needs, as there is no accountability around me, no community pressure, for better or worse.


this photo is from a short working vacation
we took to the Gaspe Peninsula the end of February,
where we stayed at our friend's chalet

I don't like pressure, obligation or holier-than-thou attitudes around spiritual practices and I made a conscious choice, many years ago, to reject that model of faithfulness. Freedom is my rally cry of faith.

That being true, there is something to be said about how a culture - a family culture, church culture, societal culture - can encourage an individual in certain, not by pressure (the evidence of faith in self, not God) but by providing structures and supports, a framework that the individual can lean upon.

This year I am observing Lent, or my version of it. Joining with the body of believers who are doing likewise.

Considering my aversion to unnecessary discomfort during late winter, it's interesting how this came about.

I have anxiety and one of the ways anxiety affects me is that it muddies the waters of truth, making it difficult for me to discern the right path. And when I make mental or emotional space for lies about my identity, or the present reality, this can set me on a mental trajectory or chute that takes me from the starting point of discomfort, pain, or confusion (normal things) to "the world is ending" catastrophic thinking.

What this means is that if I'm in an anxiety-prone period of life or season I can be easily overwhelmed and derailed by outside messages and agendas.

This is why I have to limit the kinds of media I consume during certain life periods, and in general. I can go from 0 to overwhelm in record speed.

Outside messages and agendas come at me from all over the place. I think you probably can relate. We live in world of marketing and media. And as I've analyzed why my anxiety has bubbled to surface of my life now, in my late thirties and early forties, I think the pressure and prevalence of media (all forms) in my life is part of the picture, along with some serious insecurity issues triggered by longish periods of transition and perceived instability. As a Enneagram type 6 I am going to struggle with anxiety. The issue is not if, but how.

I am weary of being marketed to. (And everyone markets these days. Church's market, for heaven's sake.) I am weary of fighting against outside agendas and messages. Not all of these messages are bad, some are very good and necessary for me to hear but, the sheer number of them in my life makes it hard to discern truth. Even the fact that the waters are muddied so I can't find that clear water of truth easily, makes me anxious. My soul is weary of this battle - the vigilance required to discern truth (and how that tires me out) and the inevitable anxiety-response when I am not vigilant. I am sick of it. I am sick with it.

When I encounter people trying to sell me on their message, whether it's a sermon, a Facebook share, an impassioned opinion, or a cleverly written blog post, I wonder if they understand what it's like to experience anxiety in the context of that message. And what especially sickens and demoralizes me is that some messages are engineered and delivered with exact precision to trigger my anxiety - fear and scarcity-based marketing.

I have to be cautious, even with the benign messages, even when I'm fairly certain the intentions of the other person are not to manipulate me into action.

"Do you understand what I'm going through inside right now to filter what you're saying through what I know to be true for me. Do you understand the effort it takes for me to stay open to hear you while still guarding myself against an anxious response to this message?"

Guarding myself, while still remaining open. What a draining effort.

It's taken me a while to understand what's been going on, to give words and meaning to the scary sensations I feel. It's been a journey.

In January, while journaling one morning, laying out all my angst in this regard - what do I do with everyone else's agendas and ideas, the things people want me to get on board with, to see as they see - the Spirit spoke to me.

God, help me. God helped me.

Here's what I heard and wrote down: Be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart.

Now, this may not have comforted others, but it provided immediate comfort to me because I trust the Holy Spirit. I have personal, familial, and spiritual history that I can lean on in this regard. Not everyone does, and some people may have baggage around this, but this was a message for me that made sense and gave me a place to stand, for the moment at least.

What came to me immediately was relief, release. I can do this. I can be open to the work of the Spirit. This feels safe for me.

That got me through that day. As the week progressed and January became February I felt it impressed upon my heart to understand the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart.

If my one directive here is to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart - heart in the Hebrew sense of the word as the seat of my intellect and my emotions, the center of my being - I need to know what I'm looking for as the manifestation and movement of the Holy Spirit.

So I set out to do a Bible study of the Spirit.

Last year, well before January's impression be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart, I was meditating on this passage of scripture:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
I Cor 2:12

It's something I need constant reminding of so I wrote it on a card and posted it to my inspiration board above my desk and when the year was over and I cleared the board for new inspiration, I pasted the card into my 2016 Journal as a remembrance of God's word for me.

The Spirit of God lives in me.

So if the Spirit lives in me, as the Bible tells me so, and I am to be open to the work of the Spirit in my heart (the center of my being), this means I can follow an inner compass, which is the Spirit, as I navigate my way through the world. As I filter the messages, media, and marketing, I can trust my inner-self of God's spirit in me, to find the right response to such things. This is the framework, the safe place, the standard I can use to discern every other message in my life.

I'm currently studying the scriptures about the Spirit to know how I can recognize the Spirit in me. How does the Spirit lead? What does the Spirit point us to, or rather who does the Spirit point us to? How will I recognize the Holy Spirit? What will it look like for the Spirit to move in me? How does the Spirit speak? I need to know what I can trust, what will be the standard for me.

This is how and why I was led to observe Lent this year. I felt the Spirit gently guiding me this way, inviting me, and I said yes.

This is the reason I haven't published anything to the blog for weeks because I feel the Spirit asking me to let go of the practice and discipline of blogging for Lent (or a modified Lent, the month of March), and to instead spend that time, which is the early morning hours (before 9 am) in scripture, prayer, and journalling. And lest this sounds too disciplined, I'm also sleeping in some days because... freedom from striving.


This list is from Pilgrim Year

A couple years ago my self-confidence was severely undermined by a disconnect from true self and the resulting anxiety, burn-out, and breakdown from that disconnect. This loss of confidence affected my blogging. On the positive side of things, I believe my writing has developed a depth of experience and honesty that it never had before. However, as I dig for the beauty, truth/honesty, and kindness to share from my experiences, writing takes a long time; nothing comes fast, quick, or easy. My posts are fewer and longer.

My blog readership dropped, maybe because of the change in writing, change in the content (less how-to homeschool, how-to make soap), and because I'm just not into marketing myself.

After I lost my confidence I had no vision except to find my footing, to find self and be true to her.

This has started to happen, slowly. It's a two steps forward, one step back kind of movement.

I have a re-growing, and hopefully true to self, ambition for my writing and direction for my blog.

Stepping aside from writing for a time, laying down my striving towards these aims while also accepting past losses, is an act of trust, an act of release. I'm trusting the Spirit to steward and lead this next stage of my writing.

Part of me is deeply uncomfortable sharing this because I am suspicious when people are public about their lenten sacrifices and about lenten practices in general. I often wonder, what is the agenda behind sharing such things?

Obedience, sacrifice, confession, repentance these are deeply personal spiritual practices, best shared in a trusted community. Unfortunately these practices and postures of the heart can become yokes that people are pressured into bearing. But condemnation, fear of failure, inadequacy is not how the Spirit moves us into spiritual discipline.

Fear is not of the Spirit, period. The Spirit invites, and sometimes persists in the inviting, but never coerces. And we have complete free will in how we respond. And we are loved regardless and we stand free of condemnation, regardless.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
II Cor 3:17

So, that's what's going on. And that is why, after this post, you probably won't see another post till April.

My new blog is almost ready to roll out and I may interrupt this break to make that announcement. That is a project set in motion months and months ago and is not something I feel called to set aside right now as it is a joint endeavour with Damien and is not about my morning writing time, but a different part of blogging all together - "the platform" and structure that supports and publishes the writing.

Before I started this blogging fast I spent over a week writing a piece that just wouldn't ring true and so it never did get published, so it's been really quiet here for almost a month and I wanted you to know that this quiet is not because I'm laid low with SAD or anxiety, though some days I am fighting these for all I'm worth.

I'm using Pilgrim Year as my reading guide for Lent. And something I've gleaned from those readings is the re-orient and re-order intention and purpose for a Lenten fast.

And this is what I want in my life right now. A re-ordering of desires, a re-orienting of myself towards a life led by the Spirit.

I could write so much more about this time but I think that would move me beyond the ken of what I'm supposed to share right now. I have given myself some hours this weekend to write this update and now I'm done.

Love, Truth and Freedom, friends.

I'll be back soon.

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It's snowing this weekend. As I type this the air is thick with the flakes and I try to capture the magic with my camera but it never does the beauty justice.

I am (gratefully) way past the toddler stage of parenting and so instead of bundling little ones to go trundling and toppling through the snow, I am sitting right here, enjoying my Saturday morning cup of coffee, my tired teenagers still deep in sleep.

This is the most "open", unscheduled, at-home all day Saturday I've had since November. And I feel both giddy and deeply at-ease in the expanse of this day before me.


Early last month I wrote that I needed all of January to transition into the New Year. It was more like January and the first week of February.

It was a bit tricky to give myself this space and time while the world around me was marching forward with 2017 plans and purposes and the ubiquitous self-improvement projects. But it was worth the effort of holding space for this month-long transition, because come mid-February I'm not discouraged or exhausted by my New Year's efforts at "being better". Rather, by intentionally withdrawing from that fray and hype, by honoring a hibernate vibe, and being patient with myself and the slow progress of living, I'm better rooted in what my purposes are for this season and stage of life.

2017 is not "the" year I will conquer the clutter, overcome a perennial struggle, or achieve any great heights of financial freedom or self-expression. It will be a year, as every other year, of steady and slow progress, punctuated with beginnings and endings.

I see this year as a continuation of goals, purposes, callings, dreams, etc. of the previous year and previous years. My chief purpose of raising our kids, the job I set out to do eighteen years ago, remains the same but the little (and sometimes big) details in how I do that work change as the kids change, not with the flip of the calendar.

Great things will happen, I'm sure. New things and new directions are brewing, adventures and celebrations are being planned and executed. There will be accomplishments and things checked off my lists, while new items are added. I will not arrive at an end point but I will find myself further on the path.

It's almost the middle of February and I am nowhere near a winter breakdown. That is an "accomplishment", a self-improvement of sorts. I don't have any cabin fever or even winter angst. March is the month that carries a sense of foreboding for me. If things are going to go bad, that's when it's going to happen. But it hasn't gone really bad (where I'm crying for days on end and feel exhausted by the effort of life by 9 am) for three winters. But I know it could, so I watch with some vigilance for the signs of winter depression and do everything I can to bear up against such possibility.

Which is to say I ski. Oh, I ski and how I love it.

February is not a particularly beautiful month in my white, grey, and salted-sidewalks world. Maybe that's why people love Valentines Day so much, all those red hearts adding color to the drab.

I don't take a lot of photos this time of year. Of the couple hundred photos I took in the first seven days of February (yes, hundreds), seven of those were non-skiing photos. They were photos of Laurent's art.

I don't keep all the photos I take. I have a photo workflow which involves a lot of deleting. I also edit all my photos, and tag them with keywords so at any point in the future I can find photos with ease. It's just what I do.

But in February I do a whole lot less of that because I just don't take many photos. Except when it comes to skiing.

I've noticed in myself that the things I try to capture with photography are the things that are capturing my heart and/or enlivening my spirit. There might be a positive feedback loop involved here. When I intentionally look for beauty, I tend to notice it more.

Right now, my children are the throat-catching and heart-tugging beauty in my world. I guess that's been true for their whole lives.

My heart alternately soars with deep gratitude for the present moment while also feeling the stab of loss at their impended independence and separation from me. There isn't a scheduled date for that in our home, but it is the next stage. And in the same way I want to bear up against the possibility of winter depression, I want to bear up against the pain of this impeding change.

Celine has no plans to leave anytime soon and we are encouraging our children to stay close for post-secondary. It's their choice of course, but the financial help we can offer for the next stage of their life will be mostly of the room-and-board variety. It's why we moved to Montreal. By living in this great city full of amazing schools and in a province with heavily subsidized post-secondary education we've positioned ourselves, in the way we are able, to help our children pursue post-homeschool studies, should they so choose.

Celine graduates from homeschooled high-school this spring. Finishing this stage of her education, getting all her documentation in order, helping her consider and narrow down her options (and providing a loving push as necessary) - this is the stuff of my life right now that consumes a lot of my mental mothering energies.

We are about to cross a major threshold with our firstborn, and that transition is probably "the" big thing that is happening for me this year, as a mother and a homeschooler. Actively homeschooling and bearing the responsibility of facilitating and overseeing the education of my oldest child is one of the things I will release this year.

I spend a part of every other week (I have a schedule) working on Celine's transcript and portfolio. There are regular meetings with Celine and Laurent about their plans and purposes and how we will help them meet those goals. And when there are no defined goals, we help dig to the place in their hearts and minds where the desires and interests are rooted and we work out how those interests would translate into goals. This is how we homeschool and living this philosophy with teens is the most energetic part of the journey.

I'm freaked out a bit sometimes, but mostly I am exuberantly excited about this stage. I love homeschooling my high-schoolers. I have amazing kids. I wouldn't trade this time and effort for more money in the bank. I wouldn't trade it for more writing time (something that always feels in short supply). I wouldn't trade it for the career I am hoping to build once my homeschool career comes to an end.

Everything has a season. And this is my season of high energy and high activity with my teenagers.

My heart is full.

I am so thankful for our weekly skiing. It's our one day a week practice in which we continue, with the full and eager participation of our children, to stake a claim for family life, for having fun together, for enjoying winter. It is so worth all the effort and expense: the driving time, the gas, gear upgrades and making due with what we have. It's an investment in our family and our health.

It is the highlight of my week.

It's been a good ski season and I am so grateful for that. I was re-reading some of my posts from last winter. Last winter was hard in many respects. The skiing conditions weren't great. We had weeks and weeks of sickness.

It's probably the foil of last year that makes this year that much sweeter.


It's 11 am now and my fourteen year old, our youngest, has emerged from the cocoon of her bed. She's puttering around me in the kitchen, brewing herself a cup of black coffee; like mother, like daughter.

My boy, about to turn 16, is still sleeping, recovering no doubt from yesterday's full day of activity that didn't end till we got home at 11:30 pm. He was still gaming at 12:30 am, when I clicked off my Kindle and went to sleep. I have no idea when he went to bed, I do hope he will get a good ten hours of sleep before coming to for the day.

My oldest, seventeen, slept over at friend's house last night. I was the chauffeur responsible for transporting four chatty girls from co-op to the friend's house and I treated the girls to coffee at Starbucks enroute. The Starbucks was in a Chapters bookstore and so I found a table some way off from the girls to give them space. The sound of their incessant chatter and laughter, before they all dispersed to scour the bookshelves in silence (three of these girls are introverts), was more than worth the price of the lattes.

Celine's friend turned 18 this month and is celebrating with a dinner and swing dance party tonight. A gaggle of girls will be getting ready in a few hours for that party; doing hair, nails, and make-up in the fifties fashion.

Eighteen, it's coming for us soon. I am so happy for Celine's joy in having great fun with friends, but I am a little disappointed I'm won't be able to photograph her carefully planned and tailored outfit. Celine bought a skirt at a Montreal vintage boutique but did the final tailoring herself, of course.

Photographing my heart's joy and delight, it's what I do. But as my "delights" grow and move to independence, as they have experiences completely apart from me, in such healthy and beautiful ways, I guess I'll content myself with photographing the morning snow.

I grew up in rural Alberta. Which is to say, I grew up skating.

skating in montreal

In my experience, even if you weren't enrolled in extracurricular skating programs like hockey or figure skating, every kid learned to skate in elementary school in gym class. There wasn't a reliable outdoor rink at my school but we walked the 10 minutes or so to the arena, near the high school and civic centre, and we had our skating classes there.

Damien learned to skate as a child also, growing up likewise in rural Alberta, close to the Rocky Mountains. He was in hockey for a bit and his family lived in the country and they skated on a pond. He didn't like hockey, skating was ok, but snowboarding was his real love and winter sport passion.

skating in montreal

As we grew up and moved away from "home", making new homes in first New Jersey and then Maine, we grew out of skating. By the time our children were at the learn-to-skate age, skating did not factor into our lives. There were one or two winters in Maine where I took the kids skating at the indoor arena at the liberal arts college where Damien worked. Not too cold, good ice and good company; we'd go during Damien's lunch break and he'd meet us at the rink.

skating in montreal

When we moved to the Gaspe Peninsula five years ago, we introduced our family to skiing and it's been our winter sport ever since.

Last year was my first winter living in Montreal and I learned that skating abounds here, in a way I haven't experienced anywhere else I've lived. The city and neighborhoods ensure that skating is an accessible winter sport to city residents. Outdoor rinks pop up all over the city. Two exist within a 10 minute walk from our apartment. One is a full size hockey rink with boards and nets. The other is a "loop" of ice in a nearby park. This one includes a trailer with skates you can borrow (for free) and a blue porty-potty in case you just gotta go. (I'll walk home thanks.)

skating in montreal

We're not hockey players and we're still newbies on our skates so we stick to the park where parents and grandparents teach the toddlers to skate with the PVC pipe frames that you can also borrow from the trailer.

skating in montreal

As a child I learned to skate by pushing around a folding chair. People here do that too, arriving at the park with a folding chair under their arms, a snow-suited preschooler in tow.

I never did get skates last year, but this year I vowed to make it happen. It was one of those non-negotiables on my winter to-do list. I don't know how long I'll live in Montreal, so I want to make the most of what the city has to offer.

skating in montreal

Because we don't have a lot of experience with skating and I'm not sure Brienne and Laurent's feet are done growing, and because I wanted to just go somewhere and get the right skates, for the right price, I opted to rent skates this year from Poubelle de ski on Boulevard Saint Laurent; the place where thousands of Montrealers outfit their families for winter sports by renting equipment, at reasonable prices, for the season.

If the kids, one of those kids is nearly an adult now (gulp), decide they want to continue skating we'll look at buying skates next year but this was a good way to re-introduce everyone back to the sport.

skating in montreal

The kids have gone skating in the afternoons, as the weather permits. And for Brienne's belated birthday party I brought a gaggle of girls here also.

Lucky for me, Celine and I can share the same size (if I wear an extra thick sock) so I've been borrowing her skates. It's been about 10 years since I've been on skates but I have a childhood bank of muscle memory and experience to drawn on, it's coming back to me slowly. And I wear my ski helmet, the only adult at the park to do so, in case I lose my footing.

The weather in the city has not been conducive to skating for the last week or so. Warming temperatures, then freezing rain and slushy snow, but it looks like some cold days are coming, for which I am grateful. (After publishing this post I came across this video of someone skating on the street this past week in Montreal. I guess conditions were ok, on that one day at least, for skating after all. Just not for driving or walking!)

skating in montreal

All over the country people are skating this time of year. They are skating in arenas, and on ponds, they are skating on outdoor rinks flooded and maintained by civic-minded volunteers and municipal employees.

skating in montreal

I live in a vast northern land that is often divided by politics, in a country where it is hard to find a cohesive center across great geographical and cultural distance. The gift of my experience growing up in the European immigrant settled, English-speaking rural west, and living now as I do in francophone Quebec, in the heart of Canada's most cosmopolitan city, is how intimately I understand these tensions. I often ask myself, "what ties it all together besides Tim Hortons?"

Maybe it's skating.

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